A poorly devised device.


I used the Snapshot by Progressive for 6 months.. my driving habits changed, all right, but not for the better.

So I just bought a new car, and I, being the cheap-o that I am, wanted to get the best possible deal on car insurance. Having not had car insurance for several years now (I didn’t have a car either, I’m not that cheap), it was pretty tricky to get a good deal since my driving history was, well, somewhat sparse. I got a pretty decent deal with Progressive, and there was the added bonus that I could bring my premium down even further with the use of the Snapshot device.

I understood what I was getting into. They basically track when you drive (time of day, how often, etc) and the quality of your driving (primarily based on how often you ‘hard stop’). This seemed like a pretty reasonable deal to me, give up a hair of privacy for the potential of 25% off my premium. Like I said, I knew what I was getting into.

Sort of.

The thing is, the ‘when you drive’ is supposed to help them find patterns of your driving, so like a daily commute, and also to penalize you for driving when it’s most dangerous, like late at night. Unfortunately, I don’t have a commute, and my driving habits are.. well.. not habits. I don’t have a set schedule. I go dancing sometimes, generally at night, which often means coming home after 11pm (which is a no-no to them). They also want to see how much you drive and encourage you to ‘drive less’. I, of course, drive back and forth between Chicago and Connecticut way more often than any reasonable human should.. basically, I’m not an ideal customer when it comes to the ‘when’ of driving. BUT! at least I’m a good driver! I will obviously nail the ‘quality’ of driving test which will ultimately make up for my poor timing!

Well, actually..

Here’s the thing, the ‘hard braking’ thing, it turns out, is a really dumb measure of driving quality. I’m a safe driver, I keep a good following distance, I am aware and alert, I’ve never been in an accident or even gotten a ticket, but the thing is, sometimes you have to hard stop to avoid accidents.

Here’s the Pavlovian monster that they created: the way the Snapshot device works is that if you have a ‘hard stop’ which as I’ve read seems to mean any stop that causes a speed reduction of more than 7mph/second makes this little SOB beep at you to let you know you’ve made a boo-boo. The idea is that you will learn from your mistakes and it will help you become a better driver, seems like a solid UX theory.. tell people when they’ve gone wrong so they can correct it in the future. Unfortunately, it has created a few questionable scenarios even for a reasonably good driver like me.

Let’s just say, for instance, that a dog runs out in front of your car while you’re traveling down the road, going about 25mph. The dog was nowhere in sight before, but suddenly it’s in front of your car. You don’t even hesitate, there’s a natural instinct to slam on those brakes to avoid hitting the dog. Well, at least that was the instinct before I had this device in my car for 3 months.

This scenario actually did happen to me, the dog, it turns out, was already in the road coming from the middle and wandered right in front of my car in the right lane. I didn’t see it until it was almost under me and for a split second, I actually thought, “Do I stop? If I slam right now, I’m definitely gonna get a ding from that godforsaken Snapshot device.” The animal lover that I am, the one that stops when a squirrel runs in front of my car, who tears up at the sight of a dead cat on the street, actually needed to think about the decision to not hit a dog bc I was so trained by this device that stopping fast is bad no matter the cost. And frankly, it doesn’t care that I just barely didn’t kill someone’s dog, I still got the ding like I made the wrong choice.

Don’t get me started on yellow lights. I have always been the person to stop as soon as I see the light turn yellow (within reason, of course), but not after having the Snapshot. If you’re even just going the speed limit, the light might turn, and if you’re willing to give the brakes a little test you can stop in time. Not so with the Snapshot, stopping that fast will definitely get you a ding, so instead, you hit the gas and try to run the yellow because running the yellow is definitely better than getting another ding, right?

I made it through my 6 months with the Snapshot though, and they gave me a whopping 5% discount on my premium (which, it turns out, is less than the discount you get for the first term if you sign the paperwork digitally). Even the cheap-o that I am realizes that 5% was entirely not worth becoming a terrible driver just to appease a device for a company I’m not even staying with.. turns out I really could save 15% or more on my car insurance just by switching to Geico.